September 26, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 59°F


Ice cream social

Purity Ice Cream has long won over those with a sweet tooth in upstate New York, but for owners Heather and Bruce Lane, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the ice cream hot spot is the cherry on top of a successful business venture.

Since Purity opened its glossy red doors for the first time, 75 years have passed. While structural and decorative changes have transformed the once wholesale-driven shop into an ice cream fanatic’s dream, the recipe of Purity’s infamous icy treats has remained the same.

“It’s an old-fashioned recipe,” Heather Lane said. “It’s made with eggs. It’s made with real milk versus whey powder. It’s made with buttermilk. It’s made with all of the right ingredients.”

Those ingredients have been the creamy recipe for the Lane’s success. Since buying Purity in 1998, the husband-and-wife team has created dozens of new flavors — like Chocolate Dipped Strawberry, a creamy strawberry ice cream with gobs of gooey fudge swirled through the confection — and added other baked goods such as pies, muffins, cookies and cupcakes, to its menu.

Heather said Purity’s packed house is a regular occurrence. On a busy Friday night, even in April, they can serve anywhere from 300 to 500 people.

“It’s like a tradition for people,” she said. “When an event happens, you’re celebrating, and then you come and have ice cream to seal the deal.”

While plans are still developing for a big 75th anniversary party in September or October, the Lanes have already started their celebrations. Purity gave away cupcakes to the first 75 customers through the door every Wednesday in March, and the parlor plans to offer 75 cent cones this month.

The Lanes are the third owners since Purity’s 1936 opening and the first to be unrelated to founder Leo Guentert’s family. Guentert opened his first ice cream parlor in his First Street garage after working for Hershey because he wanted to create a better chocolate ice cream. The Purity name came from his commitment to natural, quality products.

“We bought Purity because it used to be where we would come for dates before we were married,” Heather said. “It’s a corny story, but it’s true.”

Heather owned a restaurant on The Commons, Groover’s Downstairs Cafe, for two years before deciding to close it and acquire Purity. While owning Groover’s provided experience in retail and food, Purity’s manufacturing, distribution and wholesale aspects presented a challenge.

“When I dove in, I really was in over my head, and I really had to come up the learning curve,” she said. “I was highly skeptical when I got here and realized, ‘Holy cow, there’s a lot of work here.’”

Heather said Bruce’s previous career endeavors, like his work at CBORD, a company that offers food management software, had given him experience in manufacturing and distribution, but because he was unable to leave his company, Heather was left in charge of daily operations. Heather’s other challenge was convincing her new employees, who learned of Purity’s sale and met their new boss the day Purity closed, she bought Purity for the right reasons.

“It took me about three years to get them to believe that I wasn’t going to do anything too drastically crazy,” she said. “I truly was here because I loved the product.”

Senior Emily Viterise visited Purity on Saturday. Viterise said she often finds herself standing in front of the parlor’s iconic cherry red counters and staring at the list of more than 35 flavors, unable to decide what to order.

“The flavors are insane,” she said. “There are so many different options. I feel like, I’m at Purity, so I have to order something different.”

Even with all of the options, Viterise has a clear favorite — Blueberry Graham.

“It has blueberries and graham cracker, and it’s all mushed together with vanilla ice cream,” she said. “It tastes so good.”

While the Lanes committed to not altering any of Purity’s famous ice cream recipes, such as Mint Chip, Mocha Chip and Bittersweet, the new owners have made many changes to the operations and retail area of the parlor, such as moving freezers to create the bright, retro dining area in the back of the building. In 2006, the Lanes stopped manufacturing ice cream on site and began contracting Byrne Dairy in Syracuse to cut costs while keeping the same recipe.

Ithaca College freshman Georgi McCauley and senior Emily Viterise share in sweet treats Satruday at Purity. The shop has been a community staple. Emily Park/The Ithacan

“I thought it might be the end of Purity, but in reality what it did was provide us the money that the manufacturing would swallow up that the retail was making,” Heather said. “Now I could invest in the front of the house and the retail and market differently.”

For patron Chris Hazel and his two boys, Ithaca’s warming temperatures were reason enough to step inside Purity’s bright yellow walls Friday for chocolate chip cookie dough and coffee ice creams.

“We’re just celebrating the start of spring,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the weekend.”

Senior Dan Macken, who has worked at Purity for two years, said a few flavors stand out as the most devoured at the shop.

“We sell the most of chocolate and vanilla,” he said. “But, as far as flavors that stray away from the norm, the top four are Bittersweet, mint chocolate chip, Bulldog Crunch and Chocolate Raspberry Truffle.”

Freshman Georgi McCauley visited Purity for the first time Saturday night. Her simple order — a chocolate milkshake — didn’t disappoint, she said.

“It was like milky heaven,” she said.

The parlor makes impacts on more than just customers’ taste buds. Heather said Purity has helped with proposals, and the ice cream has been the inspiration for baby names. One couple that met at Cornell University and came to Purity for dates ended up getting married and naming their baby girl Madigan — after the shop’s Madigan Mint.

Heather said Purity’s journey to a retail shop has been nothing short of endless hours of work and dedication.

“Purity has been a labor of love,” Heather said. “There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears put into it, and finally, it’s a viable business.”

Read about how Ithaca is considered the birthplace of the ice cream sundae here.